Sunday, March 01, 2009

Nude pic row vicar resigns

A big Motor City welcome to all you visitors who found your way here from the Log. Ready for some more British hed noun pileups? Prepare to tap on the brakes* and admire the carnage.

Here are a couple from the Beeb's current display to start with -- not particularly amusing, but they do underscore the idea that British hed dialect is distinct from ours in ways that cut across sectors and markets. The first is from the news homepage, the second from the story that you reach when you click the first:
US military chief in Iran warning
Iran's uranium 'enough for bomb'

The first uses a preposition where an American hed would be scrambling around for a verb; the second uses quotation marks not to indicate a direct quote but to mark the part of the hed that needs attribution** (which we'd have to mark with "official says" or something). Neither would work on our side of the pond, but both are as likely to show up in the redtops as in the more rarefied atmos of the BBC.

I think Mark Liberman is right: However odd they look from here, these heds probably make perfect sense to people who are used to seeing them. Though there are exceptions:
Storm after FA let manslaughter coach teach kids
A "manslaughter coach" isn't -- alas -- somebody who coaches manslaughter; it's a football coach who was convicted of manslaughter.*** In "rule" terms, I think that means British hed writers can pull an attributive noun across a lot more barriers than we can -- specifically, all the way from a prepositional phrase at the end of a clause:

Blast Kelly lands on road in bed
("A schoolgirl was blasted out of her attic bedroom in a gas explosion and landed in the street – still tucked up in bed"; Kelly is her first name.)
Last seconds of hols dad
(Security photos show a guy being run over with his own carjacked Volvo as he prepared to leave on vacation)

After a cycle or two, the topic is often familiar enough to sum up in a noun phrase, ideally with a noun like "row," "fury" or "shame":
George row doc in U-turn
Pay strike cash fury
Kid porn shame councillor quits
Soup row doc gets job back
Love-row Sir victory
The "row" heds are particular fun here. "George row doc" is a physician who purportedly tried to get the dying George Harrison to sign a guitar. "Soup row doc" is a brain surgeon suspended for taking seconds without paying. "Love-row Sir" is a teacher "unfairly sacked for a relationship with an ex-pupil."

The preposition thing actually looks pretty handy, if you've spent much time trying to jam "charged," "accused," "sentenced" or whatever into a tight count:

Swiss nurse on 24 murder charges
Lad on jogger stabbing rap
Yob brothers in hoods ban
Hoon in army kit scandal cover-up
Escaped gorilla in bid to eat toddler
(OK, only the Sun could have run "Escaped gorilla in bid to eat toddler." But the Grauniad and the Mail are also represented here.)

Put it all together and you can have:
("A mum told yesterday how she tried to save a little boy spotted at the bottom of her swimming pool during a kids’ party.")
‘Cop kill’ court in gun alert
("The nightclub bouncer accused of shooting three policemen appeared at court yesterday – with ELEVEN armed cops guarding the building.")
‘Fatkins’ leak wife may sue
("The widow of diet guru Robert Atkins may sue officials who leaked a confidential report revealing he died a fatty")

We don't really have anything comparable in US print media, though (Murdoch-owned, highly tabloid, given to borrowing from the British press) is a pretty good online approximation:
Pregnant frying pan attack teen surrenders

He that has never written a hed on deadline among you, let him (or her) cast the first stone.

* Resulting in what the local radio calls "gawker delays" or "gawkage." Isn't dialect fun?
** Geoff Pullum has called these "mendacity quotes," though that seems to overstate the intent.
*** American style would also read "FA" as singular, rather than plural.



Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

So "in bid to" means "tried to"? But ... gorillas don't eat meat. I can't find this on line. What did the gorilla do to the toddler?

3:41 PM, March 01, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

Yes -- as the Sun (March 18, 2004) put it, "The King Kong tried to EAT the three-year-old lad, then hurled his mum into a wall." ( At the Sun, you can use CAPS to make a POINT in text.)

This was in Texas, after all. Maybe when you're in Texas and you say "I don't eat meat; I'm a gorilla," they say "That's OK, we're having chicken."

3:55 PM, March 01, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the examples. I used aspects of the discussion here and at Language Log for writing a column in the media journal where I work. (It's in German)

9:40 AM, March 16, 2009  
Blogger John Cowan said...

Here's an oldie, probably from Headlines and Deadlines: CLUB FIGHT BLOCKS RAIL RIVER TUBE PLAN.

7:25 PM, June 08, 2009  
Anonymous Rich said...

Another old favourite: when Michael Foot got the job of chairing a group discussing nuclear diarmament, it's said that the Times of London went with FOOT HEADS ARMS BODY.

FWIW as a Limey I found all the heds in your list fairly transparent except for "Blast Kelly lands on road in bed", which really does seem to have a what-goes-with-what ambiguity, and "'Fatkins' leak wife may sue" in which a first look suggested it was the wife who was leaky.

I think this second one may actually break some sort of unwritten rule and how these things usually work.

5:25 AM, August 04, 2010  

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